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Hades is impossible to put down

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Hades is impossible to put down. Not only is it undoubtedly my game of the year, but it’s also the absolute most addicting gaming experience I had in years. When I bought it on switch on its release, I was glued on my screen in awe at what this small game was presenting. And this comes from someone who usually has a… rather complicated relationship with rogue-like games. If I’m being honest, I was disappointed when SuperGiant Games, the developers, announced their next project would be a gradually updated rogue-like game launching for early access. But I underestimated what kind of experience this would allow them to craft in collaboration with their audience. And it shows through and through. In Hades, you take up the mantle of the titular Greek ruler of the underworld’s son, named Zagreus, to try and run away from home. Only problem is that, said home is well. Hell. And it soon turns out escaping it won’t be an easy task. On your journey you’ll meet a plethora of fun and varied characters which will sometimes hinder, but usually support you, as well as gain different upgrades from the Olympian gods. These so-called “boons” are what the game is based around. But more on that later. As you walk through the games 4 different larger areas, also often referred to as biomes, you will need to make decisions on which doors to take in order to gain different rewards after clearing the enemies hidden inside. These decisions turn out to be absolutely crucial. As balancing out the complex risk vs reward systems in the game will be the number one deciding factor in your skill. These symbols aren’t explained by the game itself, but you’ll get the hang of their meaning as you work your way through. Safe to say, you won’t be making it too far in your first attempts. But! This is what the rogue-like genre is known for. You’re supposed to have fun continuously trying and chipping away at the games’ difficulty while biting your teeth out.
Very differently than other roguelikes however, Hades tries to minimize your frustration with the inherent drawbacks of the genre by somewhat rewarding failure. So, whenever you inevitably return home to marinate in your defeat, you’ll have something to look forward to. Be it new story content, small but permanent upgrades to Zagreus’ health, damage, output and general survivability, aesthetic changes to the halls of Hades’ palace or even different weapons and their variations. In my countless attempts of escaping hell I can say that I’ve only truly felt the sting of a loss to its full, frustrating effect and sometimes even looked forward to returning to see what my actions outside of home have changed in its interior. I’m not going to spend too much time discussing the story here, as I’m gonna be releasing a separate video solely focusing on that. Which is ironic by the way, because SuperGiant games is famous for increasingly fusing gameplay with storytelling and this game represents an absolute high point in that effort. Let’s just say you’re never far from a new revelation in the ever-evolving plot and the branching, complex relationships of the characters. Which do need to be mentioned, as many of them reside inside Hades’ palace and will reward you with different artifacts that can be selected before a new run and at the start of each new floor. So, before you go there’s lots for you to discover and fine-tune. These upgrades and choices however strike a great balance between feeling useful and not being overpowered, you won’t ever be able to feel inherently much stronger from the get-go, but Zagreus will feel more and more akin to your playstyle preference.
So, with your weapons, artifacts, and later on pets in tow we take off!
What will immediately pop into your eye is the glorious art style and graphics! Which for the most part run buttery smooth on the switch in portable mode. There are framerate dips, but they happen in ways and areas that are completely predictable, just because of the amount of things happening on the screen, and never take away any of your control over the gameplay. The game manages to both feel incredibly colourful and transmit the dreadful feeling of marching through hell at the same time. It seems the studios style has evolved yet again to feel more mature, while not ever stepping into unnecessarily gruesome or sexual territory. Through that, the game feels very stylish and larger than life, while at the same time bringing you near the events and making them feel ever more personable. This is often transmitted through very settle animations of the characters during dialogues, or even details in the environment, which the narrator of the game will comment on. Zagreus can hear the narrator by the way, which is often used for some funny and clever meta commentary. The effects in the game also do a standout job to communicate true impact and power, without ever taking up too much of the screen, planting themselves firmly between impressive spectacle and very needed readability. The games’ usage of colour flows beautifully into the environments which transmit a true sense of wonder whenever you find a new room in the ever-shifting underworld. Which is brought to an absolute highpoint whenever you reach the games last area. Often truly made me feel like I was actually there, taking in the atmosphere and my breath away. Lastly, the character design does a great job to freshen up all of Greek mythology. Some gods and monsters look very different from what you might expect, while others are kept near their roots. It’s very fun to see what direction they are taken in and the attention to detail can be felt everywhere. This goes for the enemies and their animations as well. Be it when they jolt up in shock as you stab them in the back, or their seemingly unpredictable attack patterns.
So, as I mentioned earlier. You’ll be clearing rooms packed full of these enemies out. Each new room as you travel through hell almost always contains a horde of enemies waiting to squash you. What starts of as a fight for survival against a relentless onslaught quickly turns out to be a clever dance of prioritization and skilful assassination. Whenever new enemies spawn, they’ll be clearly marked, exposing them to you and opening a window of opportunity depending on the kind of enemy. You’ll be dashing around the battlefield and uh- Oh! I forgot to talk about the controls! They are quite simple really. You’ve got a dash button, one for normal attacks, a special attack and a cast. Which is a heavily customizable ranged attack with only a few charges.
So, you’ll be dashing around the battlefield on the constant lookout for the best opportunities to deal heavy damage to either the top priority target or the most enemies possible, constantly evading the enemies attacks to preserve what health you have. Every hit counts, as even after countless upgrades, healing himself is not something usually to be found in Zagreus’ arsenal. The beauty in this is that there’s no optimal strategy. Whether you go in for the kill or play defensively, trying to widdle down enemies from afar, it’s all completely viable, and only held back by your own execution and adaptability. Throughout your trials you’ll not only be able to increase your health and upgrade your equipped weapon, but most of all will gain a plethora of highly varied boons from the Greek pantheon. These can range from your normal attacks applying stacking poison to your enemies, your ranged attacks becoming lasers, your dashes creating explosions, or even your special attacks violently shoving enemies away from you. You can even call a specific god for aid which will grant a short-lasting power up with big impact. The sheer variety of different powers to be gained is absolutely stumping at first. And the game encourages you to just have fun trying things out. Since the boons usually come with an increase to your overall damage output that’s more than enough to get you going. With time however, the system smoothly increases its complexity as you gain knowledge over the boons and their interactions. Soon you’ll find out that some of them can intersect, creating powerful duo-boons if the requirements are met, or even legendary boons for one specific god that hugely power up what you already excel at thanks to them. There’s absolutely something for everyone here. From forcing your enemy to take damage when attacking you, to reflecting damage back, to slowing them down by freezing them in place, applying a mark on them that later deals huge damage. The only two standouts for me were Artemis and Poseidon. Artemis’ boons almost entirely focus on dealing critical damage, and many of which additionally upgrade the damage dealt, but the actual crit chance is way too low for me personally. You later can get weapons that drastically pump up your crit rate, but this requires late game upgrades which make Artemis seem a lot less useful than the rest without the necessary weapons. Poseidon on the other hand is the only god in the game whose trademark effect, namely pushing enemies away, doesn’t apply to bosses. They take a small amount of damage instead. I found this highly problematic as many of his effects try to capitalize on you moving enemies, and the hardest fights in the game are bosses which are wholly immune to it. I get why this was necessary, but some additional rethinking would’ve been great here.
But which Boons you accept from the gods won’t be the only choices you make. There’s a constant line between risk and reward drawn here. Will you spend your money on temporary buffs early on, use them for additional boons at Charon’s shop or save it all to cash in before the final boss? Will you try to gain the boons of two different gods in one room, at the risk of taking huge damage when they inevitably seek revenge on you for preferring someone else over them? The game makes each and every single choice feel both fun and impactful. Different again compared to other games in this genre you actually have a much bigger say over how you want to shape each specific run, since you can actually influence which gods you will encounter up to a certain degree, or even how much money you start off with thanks to the artifacts. You also may encounter unique characters in each area that grant juicy rewards that can completely change your odds of making it through alive. The risk versus reward gameplay reaches its peak in the last area, where you yourself have to decide how much time you want to spend traversing it. While facing extremely resistant enemies and the threat of constant high damage.
But sure, you may think having this much freedom to create powerful builds might make this game easier when compared to its friends in the genre. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. The balance to be struck is a vulnerable one, and often the risks you take and paths you build towards will crumble before your eyes. In which case you either need to quickly come up with a new way to win, or you’ll be finding yourself back home in no time. Having an idea of how to persist is crucial. As the bosses will give you no leeway or room for error. The two last ones in particular require precision, shifting priorities and near perfect dodging to overcome. God I’ve bitten my teeth out fighting Theseus and Hades. These fights never feel unfair mind you- although the game may try to impress- or rather distract- you with how many lethal things it can conjure on the screen in just a few seconds, and it did take me longer than probably intended to figure out what the status effect Hades can apply to you actually does.
But these fights wouldn’t be half as intense without the excellent sound design. From killing to dying, it all sounds perfect. There’s a certain weight that can be felt everywhere, which adds to the credibility of the world. The sound that plays while you’re getting revived being my personal favourite. But this still doesn’t hit the studios’ famous strengths. Different from others, the voice acting has always been done in-house. Meaning the actors are permanent parts of the studio. This allows them to do an honestly astounding amount of voicework of supreme quality. More on this in my story video, but with the amount of dialogue in this game it’s absolutely crazy how every single line sits perfectly like a glove. You believe these characters every single thing they say, with the incredibly authentic voicework and variety of tones, accents and types of expression. There’s also absolute superstars like the actor for Hades voicing a multitude of characters that you could never tell are coming out of the same mouth. Bringing me to the last of the devs strengths, and something they are most famous for. The music. Fittingly, unlocking the music to be freely listened to is one of the late game goals of the game. And it should surprise nobody that they deem this rewarding enough. While settled into Greek mythology, and with many simplistic guitar songs, the game also provides bombastic guitar riffs that almost swerve into metal during intense fights, while always bringing in the unique personality of this particular soundtrack. And no, I’m not talking about the guitars this time (the weird whooping)
There’s only a few things we haven’t covered yet. One of the currencies allows you to upgrade not yourself, but hell. Making your runs more diverse, opening more options, and lessening frustrations. This same currency later on shifts into being used for cosmetics of your, er Hades’ home. Which forces the titular character to sneeringly comment on your investments. Last, but certainly not least, the weapon aspects. So, as I mentioned, you can equip a varied of weapons in the game. You should however rather see them as different classes, 6 to be exact. These decide what your normal attack and special will do. There’s Sword, spear, shield, bow, fists and well, gun. These have different aspects, that provide a variation on how to use the weapon, be it by providing more crit-rate in certain situations or even completely altering your bow special to fire homing arrows. But, there’s one last part to them: All weapons have a fourth, secret aspect. And when I found one of these for the first time I got literal goosebumps. Which shouldn’t surprise anyone given my history, but still. These hidden aspects are based on mythological beings OUTSIDE of the Greek pantheon. They are not only much more powerful than the others, but also provide a new, completely new move set. They also come with unique and potentially devastating drawbacks. There’s one that grants you life steal but absolutely devastates your max health bar, one that grants you more health but makes you inherently slow in everything you do and then there’s the final aspect, the one for the gun weapon, that is just absolutely bonkers and I haven’t made work at the time of writing this.
I called these weapons classes, because endgame progression is basically tied to them. After you’ve beaten your father enough times he will open up contracts of punishment for you to sign. In this menu, you may alter how much damage your enemies have, if bosses become stronger, or even if enemies start tanking hits. You can decide on all kinds of handicaps you want to impose onto yourself for your escape attempt to try and gain fresh rewards for it. Chief among them, titan blood, which you need to upgrade your weapons. This is saved on a weapon to weapon basis, meaning that you’ll get to collect rewards for each one of your heat levels per weapon you use. This, in addition to some weapons randomly granting more resources, encourages you to experiment with them and master many new playstyles. In fact, encouraging you, but never forcing you into something is what this game is all about. If you don’t want to have a varied playstyle you’re more than welcome to just push through the ever increasing difficulty with just one weapon, or you can ignore even that to fulfil certain prophecies listed in your room, or just get to know the characters, or romance them. Or unlock the multitude of secret and less secret endings. Now, I know we are pretty far into the video, and I’m sure all of this sounds like a lot. A game just trying desperately to capture your attention while it throws all kinds of things at you, but I assure you, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Playing Hades never makes you feel like there’s too many systems in the game, or resources, or powers, or even weapons. In fact, it feels like there’s exactly enough there to motivate you, but never confuse you. The systems interact beautifully with one another to create an experience that keeps bringing you new rewards and discoveries many, many hours into the game. It’s not an easy game, but both the skill and strategic knowledge needed is something built up naturally within the player, and is something I’ve never experienced in this way in any rogue-like game before. The latter is also easily done through the in-game codex with precise and detailed information on practically anything in the game. Starting a run feels both exciting and intuitive, and you will often either get to do exactly what you set off to, or find new, crazy combinations that will make you instantly drunk with power. Maybe literally!
The bottom line is this: Hades is an infinitely rewarding, terribly addicting, devilishly innovative game that does not hold it’s punches. And I can honestly say that it was under-priced at release already. It’s an unmissable experience that anyone with a love of games should have tried out. It’s undoubtedly the best game of 2020. Because Hades is impossible to put down.


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